Nearly four decades ago, Dr. L.V. Landry and his associate, James B. Thompson, were acutely aware of a problem they believed Bossier Parish officials needed to address.
Dr. Landry was director of the Bossier Parish health unit and he recognized the dangers associated with less than satisfactory disposal of waste in a number of parish neighborhood waste removal systems.
Today, 37 years after Dr. Landry’s associate, James B. Thompson penned a letter to parish officials outlining their concerns, the Bossier Parish police jury is in the midst of a $55 million sewer project connecting parish residents to a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant south of Benton near the Red River.
“When (Dr. Landry) first went to police jury back in the 80s and asked them to get into the sewer business and get these plants out of operation, the jury didn’t have any money so they couldn’t do it,” said Butch Ford, Bossier Parish Engineer. “Twenty years later, we’re doing it because it has to be done if we’re going to continue to grow.”
Ford said it was that letter that helped the police jury make the decision to begin purchasing the more than 40 small systems and incorporating everything into one parish system.
“Here’s the health clinic doctor asking them to do it 25 years ago, well before the parish hit its big growth spurt in the late 90s and 2000,” Ford said. “We determined now is the time to do it and the police jury agreed.”
Work on the project is proceeding at a steady pace now that the extremely wet weather of early summer has passed. The wastewater treatment plant, which will cost roughly $13 million, is nearly complete.
“This project is something I spend nearly 50 percent of my time on,” Ford said. “This is the red-letter year. We have to have this plant up and running and we have to start pumping all these sewers. We don’t have all the systems in the northern part of the parish purchased yet but we’re in negotiations.”
Just under $28 million of the money for the project came from low interest loans from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and another $12 million came from a loan on the open market, Ford explained. The system will have to stand on its own to repay the nearly $40 million in debt.
Ford said the area’s delegation to the state legislature was responsible for getting the parish $15 million from capital outlay to make up the balance of the project.
“That capital outlay money is what made the project work,” Ford said. “If we had to repay the entire $55 million the bills were going to be much too high. We targeted keeping the bills in the $25 to $30 range and for a family of two we probably could keep it there.
“But for a family of four or five, the bills are averaging $42.50. That amount pays our debt service and lets us operate. Over the next 20 years, we can operate and pay the money back.”
If Bossier Parish is going to continue to grow through commercial and residential developments, Ford said the parish must meet new federal regulations that seem to change almost daily.
“Anyone who wants to develop a piece of property now has the option to put in an individual plant or a community sewer system,” he explained. “Prior to the 1990s, you could discharge at your property line across private property. The rules have changed. You have to discharge into a natural stream that shows on a topography map.”
That change, Ford said, altered development in Louisiana.
“A number of developers in the Haughton and Highway 80 corridor wanted to build but could not get permission to cross private property to discharge their affluent into a natural running stream,” he said. “That was occurring about the same time as other environmental regulation changes were taking place.”
With the massive sewer project, Ford said the parish is accomplishing two goals.
“We are cleaning up the environment, getting affluent out of the streams which sometime do not flow at an acceptable rate, and we’re laying the groundwork for even more development potential in Bossier Parish,” he said. “The police jury recognized that if we were going to encourage development in the parish, we had to do something. And by doing this, we have become the model for other parishes.”